F9: The Fast Saga: A franchise clearly running out of ideas
Man, the Fast and the Furious series has gone down quite a road. Initially being just a character-driven story about fast-talking, big muscle street racers, the series has now turned itself into giant heist/spy/action epics with cars barely being relevant. It’s hard to even say that these characters have “evolved” much given that they’re basically completely different now. They’ve gone from grease monkeys to gun-wielding anti-heroes and F9 is the epitome of this new look and feel for The Fast and the Furious.
By now, you could probably make the slightest assumption about the plot of this entry and nearly hit the nail on the head. The mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) somehow ensnares Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the rest of their crew into a globe-trotting spy action adventure that sees them saving the world from absolute destruction. The only real new aspect to this adventure is that the group has to face Dom’s brother Jakob (John Cena) – a master thief, of course, who’s dead set on bringing a new world order by acquiring a strange tech device that will give him complete power.
Although F9 feels like the same old song and dance story wise and hits familiar beats, there are some interesting new elements added to Dom’s story that flesh out his and Jakob’s troubled relationship and harken back to the franchise’s old look and feel. Honestly, the moments where the film heads into the past to delve into Dom and Jakob’s bad blood is kind of fun. Vinnie Bennett is a very good young Dom and even seeing younger versions of Letty and other characters from the first film was kind of cool. Also, it was very refreshing to see the series head back to its racing roots before it got consumed by watered down actiony heists. This is, unfortunately, just a small part of the film though and the rest of the film is just business as usual, but not as good.
This franchise has delivered some of the best action sequences of this generation of the genre and, to be fair, this entry still manages to create some cool, new moments. The use of magnets in the film’s final stretch is pretty amazing as cars are just pulled like they weigh nothing into these gigantic trucks. It’s perfectly chaotic and very unique. It’s even worth giving this series credit for delivering its promise on heading to space because it damn well achieves that. Everything else though is just unremarkable. It’s the same kind of high-octane punches, unbelievable action, and car-driving antics we’ve seen plenty of times and it just unsuccessfully attempts to throw explosions and adrenaline-fueled physicality in nearly every aspect to try to make its incredibly bloated runtime any less of a drag.
This entry even tries to poke fun at its cast of characters somehow surviving all this mayhem and it’s immensely infuriating. Roman’s (Tyrese Gibson) main comedic schtick this time around, among other things, is basically acknowledging how they tend to survive everything with very few scratches. It’s meant to be a joke about how crazy the action is, but it just points out how there are now stakes in their adventures. Although this film tries many times to make it seem like its characters are about to face death or finally face the reality that they’re not invincible, they always survive. Thus, the dramatic moments of Roman maybe being crushed by a car, Dom possibly drowning, or some people being unable to come back to Earth carry no real emotional weight to them and are totally pointless. It’s a big part of why this plot ends up being such a bland and boring watch. It doesn’t even have the guts to have anything drastic happen to its main set of villains, just adding to the immense and crowded cast of familiar faces in the franchise that aren’t even surprising to see anymore.
Frankly, they should’ve left out the reveal of Han (Sung Kang) being alive, which is just the most ridiculous retcon, out of the trailers and marketing because this film is pretty much devoid of big surprises. It is nice that we do get a Tokyo Drift reunion of sorts and some respect for its characters, given its sort of cult love status in the franchise, and it really is special to see them again. However, outside of this, there’s nothing all that memorable about the story or any real surprises to talk about. At this point, seeing Helen Mirren as Queenie or Charlize Theron as Cipher is nothing special and they bring the same old energy and personality that everyone else usually does in this cast. Cena’s addition doesn’t really add much to anything happening – story and action wise. Even the post-credit scene that teases a long-awaited confrontation that true die-hard fans will easily crack a smile at just isn’t anything super special and just feels like an unremarkable flex of its wide array of characters.
With its latest entry, The Fast Saga is clearly running out of ideas. F9 comes with mostly the same bag of actiony tricks and undying cast of characters that have begun to truly become stale that show that in a world where the action genre is better than ever, it needs a fresh vision and direction.